Book Review Thursday: Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th-Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles

After reading this book I have to wonder how I, having lived almost two decades in Southern California, never heard about this tragic man-made disaster which occurred on March 12, 1928.  I vaguely knew about someone named Mulholland who made a name for himself in Los Angeles and had one of the most scenic drives in Los Angeles named in his honor.  It’s almost like the City and County of Los Angeles swept it all into the dustbin of history, that is until author Jon Wilkman wrote this detailed account which was voted one of the best books of January 2016 by Amazon. Although I’ve never seen the movie, fans of the 1974 movie Chinatown would have an idea of the background of the story.  The water wars of the early twentieth century which pitted the burgeoning city and county of Los Angeles against the farmers and ranchers of Owens Valley were marked by rancorous disputes and what we would today call acts of domestic terrorism. Los Angeles had big plans to expand and grow and Owens Valley had abundant water resources.  William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant, had been involved in Los Angeles water matters since his arrival there in 1877, eventually becoming chief engineer and manager of the Los Angeles Bureau of Water Works and Supply.   Mulholland, a self-educated civil engineer and dam builder was well-respected, yet made some fatal mistakes when he oversaw the building of the St. Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon in the mountains north of Los Angeles. The story of the dam breaking and creating a harrowing floodpath to the Pacific Ocean...

Tombstone Tuesday: Zilpha Etta Scott Dockery (1796-1903)

She was born on September 8, 1796 in Virginia and moved with her family to Spartanburg, South Carolina at the age of three, an event she remembered vividly in 1902 when interviewed by the Dallas Morning News.  John Scott was a farmer and the father of three sons and eight daughters. While most of her family appears to have died young, Zilpha would more than outlive all of them, her life spanning three centuries.  When she was born George Washington was serving his second term as the first president of the United States.  Although Napoleon Bonaparte had just married Josephine his rise to power had not yet evolved. “My people were hard-working people,” she declared.  “We worked in the fields with plows drawn by oxen and made crops that way for my father the year before I was married.”1  Her childhood dresses were made of flax cloth, although she fondly remembered the first calico dress she made. “Calico was so skeerce and expensive we couldn’t afford any flounces and frills and trains them days.”  Instead, Zilpha wove flax cloth and traded it yard for yard for calico.  It was “purty”, she remembered in 1902, and she herself was “naturly purty”.  In those days folks didn’t wear their shoes on the way to church, corn shuckings, logrollings, weddings or fairs.  They would walk barefoot until reaching their destination, put their shoes on and take them off again before walking home. Zilpha married William Hiram Dockery in 1818, with whom she had nine children – six sons and three daughters.  From Spartanburg, they moved and settled among the Cherokee Indians in...

Book Review Thursday: The Golden Lad: The Haunting Story of Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt

After reading several books in the last two years about the Roosevelts – Franklin, Eleanor, Alice and Theodore – I believe this one is perhaps the most poignant one of all as it explores the relationship between Theodore and his youngest son Quentin.  He adored his children, and they adored him right back (with the exception, of course, of his first child Alice with whom he had a sometimes-strained relationship). This book by Eric Burns focuses on Theodore’s special relationship with Quentin, or Quenty-Quee as he liked to call his youngest son. Perhaps more than any other of his children, Quentin was most like his father.  They shared on particular thing in common – both suffered from one childhood malady or another – so much so that it pained Theodore to see his offspring suffer, especially “golden lad” Quentin who would be the frailest of all his children. Quentin was the one who “got away” with more than the older children.  When the Roosevelts occupied the White House, Quentin and his friends were known as the “White House Gang”, running up and down the halls, playing pranks, making mischief.  His spirit and joie de vivre were so much like his father’s it’s no wonder the two had such a special relationship. Many books have been written about Theodore Roosevelt, he being one of the most fascinating and colorful people to occupy the White House.  I expected this one to focus more on Quentin, given the title of the book.  Burns, however, spent a fair amount of time writing about Theodore while interspersing stories which highlighted their special relationship. Theodore...

Feisty Females: Sarah Jane Ames

When she died in 1926 Sarah Jane Ames was hailed as one of Boone County, Illinois’s “most virile, energetic, and withal most interesting citizens”.1 She was born Sarah Jane Hannah in Montreal, Canada on December 4, 1843, and in 1854 migrated to Belvidere, Illinois with her parents (Thomas and Jane) and two brothers. Save for a few years she spent pioneering in South Dakota, Sarah remained in Boone County the remainder of her life.   NOTE: This article is being re-purposed and may be included in a future edition (or Special Edition) of Digging History Magazine. After January 1, 2018 it can also be purchased as an individual article. If interested, please subscribe to the blog (to the right of this post) and you will be notified when the new Digging History Magazine web site is launched. Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new...

Book Review Thursday: Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese Family Caught Between Two Worlds

This meticulously researched book by Pamela Rotner Sakomoto is a compelling story of a Japanese-American family finding themselves on opposite sides during World War II.   The book opens with scenes from one of America’s darkest days, December 7, 1941, following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Harry Fukuhara, twenty-one years old and living in Los Angeles, finds it hard to comprehend the news.  Meanwhile his seventeen year-old brother, thousands of miles away in Japan, had just boarded a train for a school track meet when he heard someone speak of “our victorious assault on Hawaii”.  Little did these two brothers realize they would eventually serve on opposite sides. Katsuji and Kinu Fukuhara, Japanese immigrants to America (he in 1900 and she in 1911 after marrying Katsuji sight-unseen – a picture bride), had five children – four sons and one daughter.  The oldest two children, Victor and Mary, were sent back to Japan at an early age to avoid discrimination and, ostensibly, to immerse them in the Japanese culture.  They both returned in 1929.   However, their three younger children – Harry, Pierce and Frank – were all born and raised in the Pacific Northwest where Katsuji worked hard to provide for his family, despite often being shunned because of his ethnicity. The Depression years were difficult and when Katsuji died Kinu decided to return to Japan, taking all her children back to her ancestral home of Hiroshima.  Harry, however, vowed from the start to someday return to America – he was, after all, an American by birth and proudly so. First Mary and then Harry returned to America, determined to...

Book Review Thursday: Brave Companions

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough is known for his meticulously researched historical and biographical works.  In Brave Companions McCullough combines essays originally written for magazine publication into a compelling book of short biographies.  Two of the essays were written as a result of research for two books: The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 and Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt. Harriet Beecher Stowe and Theodore Roosevelt, as well-known American historical figures, were profiled along with lesser-known or long-forgotten individuals such as Alexander von Humboldt.  Although born into an aristocratic Prussian family in Berlin, he decided to forego a life of privilege and chose instead to embark on an extended exploration of Latin America.  Charles Darwin would later utilize Humboldt’s extensive research and documentation.  In his best-selling book, Personal Narrative ITALICS, Humboldt described the need for a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Of course, that indeed became a reality many years later with the Panama Canal. In a way this book is a window into the thought processes of McCullough and his storied writing career.  McCullough would often find subjects for his books while researching another subject (that happens to me all the time!).  For instance, he pointed out that while researching The Great Bridge, the story of the German immigrant Roebling family and their stunning achievements in building the Brooklyn Bridge, he studied Henry Ward Beecher to understand the times surrounding the bridge’s construction.  Beecher was a renowned Congregationalist minister and social reformer, the brother...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Lone Star, Texas

  This ghost town in northeast Cherokee County was first known as “Skin Tight”.  According to legend the community got that name after cattle buyer and merchant Henry L. Reeves opened a store.  It’s believed the name was due either to Reeves’ “close trading tactics” or perhaps because he worked as a trapper and animal skinner. The town had begun to take shape in several years earlier in 1849 when Hundle Wiggins settled there after the Texas Legislature created Cherokee County in 1846.  Reeves built a store there in the early 1880’s and on June 13, 1883 a post office was established under the name “Lone Star”.  Not long afterwards Reeves moved to Smith County and was shot to death in Troup on June 13, 1886. By 1885 Lone Star had grown to a population of 160 with a cotton gin, gristmill, sawmill, general store and school.  The town was somewhat isolated but the town continued to grow steadily.  Both Woodmen of the World and the Masons established chapters in the small community. By 1890 there were three mercantile stores and a millinery shop in the business district.  In 1893 a fire swept through the business section of town and destroyed all but two buildings.  The fire started in the offices of Dr. J.E. Rowbarts, who died in the fire.  No one was ever able to determine the exact cause although it was common knowledge the doctor kept a cannister of black powder in his office. The town was rebuilt quickly and resumed its growth, reaching a population of three hundred by the mid 1890’s, aided in part by...

Book Review Thursday: Johnstown Flood

As this book’s description notes, it is much more than just a story about one of America’s greatest weather-related tragedies, the Johnstown Flood of 1889  – it’s also a social history, set in the nineteenth century’s so-called “Gilded Age”. Nearing the end of the nineteenth and looking head to the twentieth century, America was flexing its muscle as an industrial power house.  Titans of industry made millions on the backs of hardworking men in the coal and steel industry and Johnstown was a leading boom town in southwest Pennsylvania. David McCullough dedicates the entire second chapter of the book to setting the stage for the tragedy by introducing readers to some of those titans of industry, notable among them the likes of two men named Andrew (Carnegie and Mellon).  Along with other successful businessmen, they helped organize an exclusive members-only summer resort in the mountains above Johnstown in 1879 – the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.  The lake had been called many things, including Lake Conemaugh, but residents of Johnstown referred to it as the South Fork dam. For years members had been warned of the dam’s instability, and each time residents of the valley would be assured the dam was perfectly safe.  That would prove to be tragically false on May 31, 1889 when a massive weather system hovered in the area for several hours, dumping massive amounts of rain which caused the dam to burst and flood the valley below. The wall of water roared through community after community, destroying practically everything in its path and causing the deaths of over two thousand people.  When news...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Lulu City, Colorado

This ghost town, now located in Rocky Mountain National Park, was founded in 1879 after Fort Collins merchant and entrepreneur Benjamin Burnett heard about a silver strike in the mountains west of Fort Collins near the headwaters of the Grand River (later Colorado River).  Burnett sent out prospector John Rigdon to investigate the claims. Rigdon went over Thunder Mountain (later renamed Lulu Pass) and camped in a beautiful park situated at an elevation of 9,400 feet.  There he began to prospect, initially finding a vein of silver and lead.  After returning to Fort Collins and having the ore tested down in Denver, Burnett decided to personally investigate. In the summer of 1879 he loaded up a wagon and took his family to the park.  He wasted no time in laying out a town, and an ambitious one at that.  One hundred blocks were platted, with sixteen lots per block.  Streets were numbered first to nineteenth and the avenues were named Ward, Mountain, Riverside and Trout.  The town was named in honor of his daughter Lulu. Burnett was assisted by a man named Godsmark, building a store and erecting log cabins.  He returned to Fort Collins, loaded the wagon with supplies for the new stores and brought back six large mules.  There was, however, no road per se.  His son Frank later described the arduous trek: The route traveled to Lulu City was from Fort Collins up through Livermore, Long Cabin to Manhattan, through Manhattan west to Old Baldy.  There are two peaks of Old Baldy and the road went between them on the west through the top of the...

Tombstone Tuesday: Carbon Petroleum Dubbs (a “for-real” name with a rags-to-riches story)

Carbon Petroleum Dubbs was born in Franklin, Pennsylvania to parents Jesse and Jennie (Chapin) Dubbs on June 24, 1881.  Jesse was born in the same county (Venango) in 1856, around the time the country’s first oil was discovered, and grew up during the early boom years.  It wasn’t surprising that Jesse, son of druggist Henry Dubbs, developed a fascination with the oil industry, nor that he named his son after one of oil’s elemental components.  Carbon later added a “P.” to his name to make it more “euphonious”.  When people began calling him “Petroleum” (perhaps people assumed that’s what the “P” stood for)  the name stuck, thus he became known as “Carbon Petroleum Dubbs” (“C.P.”). Jesse set up a “dinky” chemistry lab in a small oil field and began experimenting in an attempt to discover a way to produce gasoline from crude oil.  In 1890 his neighbor, Senator Richard Quay, had him arrested for “maintaining a common nuisance” – the stench was more than the senator could bear.  A trial was held a few months later and a split decision resulted – yes, he was guilty of creating a nuisance but on the second charge of continuing a nuisance he was exonerated.  However, as the newspaper headline asked – “Will This Stop the Bad Odor?”1 As an “inveterate tinkerer”2 Jesse was constantly discovering new ways to use petroleum.  Like his father Henry he was a druggist by trade, inventing a protective jelly for miners, as well as inventing a process to extract sulfur from crude oil.  His experiments took him far and wide around the world, despite once being...